Divorce is never a pleasant experience, but it holds particular risks for gun owners. Mark Witaschek is a successful Washington, D.C. financial advisor, with no criminal record. But Mr. Witaschek is facing two years in prison for possession of unregistered ammunition, after D.C. police raided his house looking for “illegal” guns.
We should note that “police” consisted of THIRTY (30) heavily armed officers, who trashed Mark’s house and terrorized his children at gunpoint. The details of the story are complicated, but it is why the police were there at all that should concern those of us who own and/or carry firearms. From the Washington Times:
“Police based their search on a charge made by Mr. Witaschek’s estranged wife, who had earlier convinced a court clerk to issue a temporary restraining order against her husband for threatening her with a gun, although a judge later found the charge to be without merit.” [Emphasis ours]
Filing restraining orders is unfortunately a relatively common tactic in divorce proceedings, used as leverage in child support and custody negotiations. But when the target of an “order of protection” is a gun owner, additional legal difficulties can occur. In many states, any charge relating to “domestic violence” can be grounds for denial or revocation of a carry permit, even if unproven.
Many of us, whether personally or through a friend, have seen the havoc that an angry former spouse can cause. True, a lucky few get through divorce without rancor, and every situation is different. But all gun owners should consider a few common sense measures to at least give themselves a fighting chance of avoiding potentially costly mistakes.
You Need a Good Lawyer
First and foremost, get a good lawyer. Divorce, especially where guns are involved, is not a matter for amateurs. And when you do get an attorney, listen to them! It is astonishing how many times a client completely disregards their attorney’s advice, with predictably negative consequences.
A lawyer friend of mine told me about a client who got a call from his ex-wife demanding more money. He thought he would save a few dollars in legal fees, so instead of meeting at the lawyer’s office, he stupidly chose to go over to his ex-wife’s house to discuss the matter, where she was currently living with her new boyfriend.
Predictably, an argument occurred, with the boyfriend threatening (with a baseball bat) the ex-husband, who drew his handgun, causing a stalemate. Police were called, and both men were arrested. More importantly, both were eventually convicted of assault. Prosecutors argued that while “Bubba” was obviously wrong, the husband’s actions “provoked” the incident. Unfortunately, the jury agreed.
Most divorce attorneys warn clients to avoid ANY unnecessary contact with their estranged partner, and to especially avoid being alone with them. With no witnesses, accusations of threats are easy to make.
What we say in public is also important. A derogatory remark about a soon-to-be ex-spouse, made in a restaurant among friends, can sound like a threat when repeated in divorce court.
How guns are stored around children can become a very big issue. Secure your firearms carefully, with an eye to passing an inspection by some “Children and Family Services” bureaucrat. Custody has turned on less.
The list of dos and don’ts is potentially endless. But the bottom line is that it’s just good sense to take whatever steps we can to protect ourselves from a potentially vindictive spouse. Just ask any divorce lawyer.